Thursday, March 21, 2013

And The Ugly

I'm including a list of five episodes never included in 'best-of' lists that nevertheless point to what was good about this show on a week-to-week basis while you waited for another great mind-blowing episode. So, none of these episodes are perfect. So what. All of them are plenty of fun, have memorable moments, or help move the characters forward.

If we're making room for the best and the worst, why not spend a little time with the merely average?

  • Identity Crisis: Another Brannon Braga script with DNA issues but tons of fun if you can get past that. LaForge discovers that all of the other members of an away team he was on several years before have disappeared save himself and a crewmate Susanna Leijten. Returning to the apparently uninhabited planet they beamed onto, both LaForge and Leijten begin to exhibit strange behaviors. Ultimately, Crusher figures out that all of the visitors to the planet pick up a strange parasite that rewrites their genetic code (SCIENCE!) and turns them into creatures with the ability to cloak themselves. It turns out that the entire planet is inhabited by these strange assimilating creatures. So the premise is pretty far-fetched but there are so many great creepy/disturbing images: LaForge using the Holodeck to figure out what is making an anomalous shadow, the bizarre transfigurations as the parasite takes hold, and the poignant moment where Data coaxes the mute, paranoid creature LaForge has become off of a cliff. Not great, but definitely WEIRD.

  • The Most Toys: Another near great episode. Data is captured by Kivas Fajo, an interstellar rarities collector, and made to join his museum of 'one-of-a-kind' objects. This episode could have gone off the rails in so many places, part of the enjoyment in watching it is seeing how a fairly sub-par idea is elevated by great acting (Spiner and Saul Rubinek) and flinty ambiguity. Kivas initially comes off as a buffoon, but the casual sadism he employs against Data and his employees secures him a place in the select group of true NEXT GEN villains. In the final moments, we're left with the unsettling possibility that Data, who instinctively recoils from violence, may have attempted justified murder.
  • We'll Always Have Paris: It's a little slow. The predictable 'old flame' cliche is revisited again in Next Gen. But I've always had a soft place in my heart for this episode. First of all, it introduces the idea of Picard as a an absolute hell-raiser in his misspent youth. Here he merely plays the cad, standing up a romantic interest, Jenice Manheim before heading off to his first assignment in Star Fleet. As crimes go, not the most severe, but I liked the knowing way this episode plays the dynamic between the characters. When she finally catches up with Picard, years later, she doesn't want to hear the collected wisdom of a man she never got the chance to really know, she only wants closure from the boy she once knew. The science fiction element, something about looped time, feels like a warm-up for later, greater explorations of temporal distortions later in the show, but the scene with Data working out which of his various doppelgängers is in correct alignment to solve the problem is pitch perfect.

  • Disaster: I have a great deal of affection for this episode. The premise is the biggest problem, the idea of a quantum filament one in a series of Mad Lib Season Five catastrophes, and one does have a distracting sense that this plot wasn't originally meant for Star Trek. No matter, this is a great vehicle for the characters. Disaster strikes the Enterprise, the power goes out, the engine is about to go kablooie, and Counselor Troi is the only senior officer left on the bridge. Cue screaming. This episode isn't exactly deep, but it does what it does with surprising effectiveness. Troi has to decide whether to separate the saucer from the drive hull to avoid an impending core breach. Picard has to escape an elevator with a posse of kids. Crusher and LaForge need to prevent a shipment of volatile chemicals from exploding by venting a cargo bay. Riker and Data attempt to reach engineering through a perilous Jeffrey's Tube (at one point, Data loses his head). Finally, Worf helps Keiko deliver her daughter. This final bit contains some of the absolute best Klingon moments in the entire series. 

  • Lessons: Not perfect but probably one of my favorite non-great episodes. Picard falls in love with someone who actually 'gets' him, Lt. Commander Nella Darren. He resolves some of the issues pertaining to his lost Kataan life and gets to play a duet on his Ressikan flute. The romance is doomed but not arbitrarily so. And the final scene, where Picard's love interest has to bravely secure the evacuation of a colony during some sort of plasma cataclysm is genuinely alarming, Nella sticks her head up to check the progress of the storm in time to watch a rolling inferno crash into flimsy force pylons. It's included on the oddball list for a few reasons. First of all, this is an episode bravely bucking the Next Gen reset button that nevertheless falls prey to the reset button. Lessons only makes sense within the context of "The Inner Light," and yet it can't quite escape the need to wrap up everything neatly at the end. A modern television show would have probably arrived at the same point, but allowing Picard and Darren's romance to continue for a few episode would have allowed the story a chance to breathe.

Also rans: The Gambit, Homesoil, The Survivors, The Drumhead, High Ground, Power Play.
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